Havre Daily News Sports Editor
After waiting 10 games before getting its first win last season, the MSU-Northern football team wasn't about to wait as long in 2005.
The Lights, behind a solid all-around game from junior quarterback Kyle Samson, stunned the sixth-ranked Dickinson State Blue Hawks 32-17 Saturday afternoon at Blue Pony Stadium.
Samson threw for a pair of touchdowns and ran for two other scores to lead Northern to the upset win in its season opener. It was a stark contrast from last year's season opener in Dickinson, N.D., where the Blue Hawks roughed up the Lights 38-0.
"We had a lot to prove in this game," Samson said. "We weren't ready to play last year. This year, we came in much more prepared."
It didn't look like it right away. In fact, early on it looked as though DSU was headed for another blowout win, jumping out to a 14-0 lead with seven minutes remaining in the first quarter.
DSU quarterback Mike Spargo connected with a ridiculously wide open Jake Schmitz on a 50-yard scoring strike on the Blue Hawks' first possession to take an early 7-0 lead.
"I don't know what happened there," said head coach Mark Samson. "We were in the right coverage, but there was a miscommunication. I don't know where our safety was. He was probably halfway to Harlem."
Northern's offense sputtered on the ensuing possession and went three and out.
The Blue Hawks needed just four plays to put the ball in the end zone as tailback Larry Aldridge scampered in from 16 yards out to push the lead to 14-0 with 7:05 remaining in the first quarter.
The two quick scores had Northern staring at a possible blowout. But instead of letting the early Dickinson lead temper their hopes, the Lights remained resilient.
The offense started to move the ball a little more consistently, while the defense shook off the initial shock and started coming up with stops.
"It took our kids a little while to adjust to how fast everything is in a game," Coach Samson said. "You can't simulate it in practice or in scrimmages."
After putting together decent drives that failed to result in points, Northern finally got on the scoreboard in the second quarter as Samson found Jake Eldredge on a 33-yard touchdown pass at the 10:52 mark of the second quarter. The drive had appeared to bog down on the DSU 33-yard line as Northern was faced with fourth down and a lone yard. The Lights called timeout and settled on an option pass to Eldredge, who would run a post route.
"The interesting thing is that we had the wrong personnel in there and were actually a man short," Coach Samson said. "It still worked out. We saw that other teams had success with that route. You get their safeties cheating up a little. They really bit on that option."
Unfortunately, Northern botched the extra point, as the snap bounced before reaching holder Dan Wirtzberger.
After waiting three games to get their first touchdown last year, the Lights had their second touchdown of the season in a matter of minutes.
The brother-to-brother tandem of Kyle Samson and Marc Samson connected on a 32-yard pass play, setting up an eventual 11-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Samson to Don Saisbury.
"We started off a little slow," said Kyle Samson. "I think everyone was a little bit nervous. Once we got the jitters out and got some momentum with that first touchdown and defensive stops, we started to believe we could come back. It's not as tough coming back as you think it is."
Down 14-12, Northern attempted a two-point conversion, but Saxton Shearer was stopped short of the goal line.
After forcing a DSU fumble on the ensuing possession, which Marc Samson recovered on the DSU 28-yard line, Northern would use the good field position to find the end zone for the third time in the quarter.
Kyle Samson completed a 14-yard pass to Nick Arnold and then scampered into the end zone one play later on a quarterback draw. Chaz Kountz kicked the point after to give Northern a 19-14 lead before halftime.
"Fumbles are always costly when they're deep in your own end," said Dickinson head coach Hank Biesiot. "We had three of them and they capitalized on every one of them."
After surrendering the quick 14 points in the first quarter, Northern's defense would allow just three more points the rest of the way as Shawn O'Brien booted a 34-yard field goal with 5:15 remaining in the third quarter to cut the lead to 19-17. That was as close as the Blue Hawks would get.
Kountz answered with a 20-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter, and Samson plunged in from two yards out to push the lead to 29-17. Kountz added a 27-yard field goal with 2:42 remaining in the game to put the Blue Hawks away for good.
Northern's problems with the kicking game have been well documented since the program's reinstatement in 1998. Although they were far from booming, Kountz' kicks have solidified the position some.
"What can I say about Chaz Kountz?" Coach Samson said. "This is a kid who came here to play wide receiver and halfway through two-a-days he tells us he kicked in Miles City. I'm proud of that kid. He gets the job done.
"It's nice to know that when we're inside the 20-yard line we can get three points. Sometimes three is just as good as six."
Samson completed 14 of 27 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns, while Saisbury led the rushing attack with 60 yards on 11 carries.
"Kyle made some great individual plays to keep things going," Coach Samson said. "Donny played a very good game and Zach Wermers had a nice game in his first real college game at fullback."
Even with the 32-point outburst and 302 yards of total offense, Coach Samson admitted his offense could play better.
"We dropped some passes and made some mistakes that I didn't like," he said. "We weren't especially crisp, but that's a good defense we played against."
Said Kyle Samson: "We didn't execute all that well, but when we needed to get it done, we got it done."
Northern was led defensively by linebacker Kennedy Anderson with 12 tackles, while safety Marc Samson added nine tackles and two fumble recoveries.
"Our defense played great," Coach Samson said. "We did a good job of tackling after that first quarter and we forced some turnovers. They just started playing with more confidence as the game went on."
Aldridge led DSU with 96 yards on 24 carries, while Spargo was 10 of 23 for 129 yards. The Blue Hawks hurt themselves with three costly fumbles and only managed 251 yards of total offense, well below their season average.
Obviously knocking off a top 10 team is a major accomplishment for Northern, but perhaps the team's ability to come back from an early deficit is equally as impressive.
"The kids really believe that we can win," Coach Samson said. "It shows them that all the hard work they put in the last three weeks was worth it. I know I made the 'little sisters of the poor' comment, but I really believed deep down inside that if we played well we could win."
It is perhaps one of the biggest wins since the program was reinstated and Kyle Samson admitted it was the biggest in his college football career.
"Our first goal of the season was to win this game," he said. "We can take this into the conference opener against Western. It gives us so much confidence. It shows that you can do great things if you just believe you can do it."
Dickinson, which defeated Black Hill State last week, falls to 1-1 on the season.
The Lights open their Frontier Conference season on next Saturday when they travel to Dillon to face UM-Western.
Dickinson State 14 0 3 0 - 17
MSU-Northern 0 19 0 13 - 32
DSU - Jake Schmitz 50 pass from Mike Spargo (Shawn O'Brien kick) 10:05
DSU - Larry Aldridge 18 run (O'Brien kick) 7:06
MSU-N - Jake Eldredge 33 pass from Kyle Samson (Kick failed) 10:52
MSU-N - Don Saisbury 11 pass from Samson (run failed) 3:43
MSU-N - Samson 11 run (Chaz Kountz kick)
DSU - Shawn O'Brien 34 field goal 5:15
MSU-N - Kountz 20 field goal 14:57
MSU-N - Samson 2 run (Kountz kick) 5:53
MSU-N - Kountz 27 field goal 2:42
First downs 17 13
Rushes/yards 46/85 36/122
Passing 14-28-0 10-23-0
Passing Yards 217 129
Total Offense 302 251
Punts/Avg 8/34.9 5/28.2
Fumbles/lost 1/0 5/3
Penalties/Yds 9/69 5/38
Possession time 46:12 22:29
RUSHING - DSU: Larry Aldridge 24-96, Ryan Vaira 3-5; Rusty Knuths 2-25, Cherone Schneider 1-1, Michael Spargo 4- (-5); MSU-N: Don Saisbury 11-60, Saxton Shearer 5-17, Zach Wermers 4-17, Adrian Largent 1-2; Kyle Samson 24-(-10).
PASSING - DSU: Spargo 10-23-129; MSU-N: Kyle Samson 14-27-217, Don Saisbury 0-1-0.
RECEIVING - DSU: Rafe Espinoza 3-30, Larry Aldridge 3-8, Jake Schmitz 2-58, Zach Greff 2-33; MSU-N: Zach Wermers 3-38, Don Saisbury 3-29, Clint Herrera 2-38, Nick Arnold 2-22, Jake Eldredge 1-33, Marc Samson 1-32, Dan Wirtzberger 1-14, Saxton Shearer 1-11.